4 Updates to the Standard and Guidelines

4.1   Federal Agency and Consumer Experiences Driving the Refresh
4.2   Technological Changes Driving the 255/508 Refresh
4.3   Harmonization
4.4   Economic Impact

Improvements in ICT accessibility have come from many sources:  how people use technology, how technology itself changes, and how products change must all be taken into consideration. The intent of Sections 255 and 508 is to enhance and improve the accessibility of ICT to Federal employees and to the general public. The Committees recommendations are designed to encourage agencies to consider and show preference for these improved alternatives as they are introduced.

Concurrent with the development of the Committees recommendations, other national and international standards and guidelines are being developed.  The Committee has referred to some of these standards and guidelines below.  Others are expected to be cited by the Access Board in technical assistance to Federal agencies. There are significant benefits in harmonizing with these international standards. Such harmonization creates a larger marketplace demanding accessibility solutions, thereby attracting more offerings and increasing the likelihood of commercial availability of highly accessible ICT options.

Accessibility is receiving increasing attention and priority throughout the world.  This heightened interest suggests further investments and advancements in accessibility technologies in many countries and across multiple scientific disciplines.  As these advancements progress, the Access Board (or other appropriate body) should review and update the Federal accessibility standards to reflect the advancing state of the art.  Because ICT is a global market, the harmonization with international standards and guidelines where appropriate may also benefit agencies, service providers, manufacturers, and people with disabilities by reducing costs that would be associated with designing and developing different products to meet conflicting requirements in different markets.

4.1   Federal Agency and Consumer Experiences Driving the Refresh

The Committee received several presentations from agency Section 508 coordinators and others.  We were repeatedly reminded that although the Committee is composed of experts on accessibility, there are hundreds or even thousands of non-experts to whom these regulations are important.  This includes agency staff responsible for carrying out the provisions, ICT vendors voluntarily supplying compliance information or reports, as well as millions of consumers, federal employees, and members of the public with disabilities.  The experience of these stakeholders with the current Section 255 guidelines and Section 508 regulations should be carefully factored into any refreshed regulations and guidelines.

Below is a list of the issues raised in this context.  Where possible, the Committee made an effort to address and solve the problem noted.  However, some of the issues were beyond the scope of the Committee.

The following were discussed:

  • Lack of clarity on some provisions (e.g., baseline for amplification).
  • No guidance on whether electronic content (such as email messages and word processing documents) is E&IT.
  • Inconsistencies between Sections 255 and 508 (e.g., phone amplification).
  • Coverage of "non-office" equipment, such as field equipment and scientific tools.
  • Agencies purchase network E&IT with accessibility features, but do not turn those features on, and sometimes users are left without the ability to turn the accessibility features on.
  • Confusion about "back office" (“service area”) exception.
  • Non-US jurisdictions and the need to harmonize.
  • Confusion about whether/how to prioritize the provisions.
  • Confusion about decision-making:  how to rate, rank, or weigh the relative importance of conformance to individual access requirements when provisions address different disability needs.
  • Confusion about how cost, business need, and accessibility considerations are to be factored into procurement decision-making.
  • Questions regarding access to video relay versus network security.

The following was considered to be out of scope:

  • Questions from states, localities, universities, etc. on how to apply 508.

The following were discussed but the Committee could not agree on how to resolve:

  • Insufficient technical detail on the meaning of individual provisions (need more detailed technical assistance). While there were improvements on many of the technical provisions, the Committee did not go as far as they would have liked in some cases.
  • Insufficient guidance in the provisions on how technical support should be handled by ICT vendors regarding AT compatibility, configuration and use.
  • Role of the Functional Performance Criteria when Technical Provisions are met or not met.
  • AT Compatibility – is an application programming interface (API) only sufficient? Is testing with AT needed? If so, how many models of AT is enough?
  • Lack of testability and testing methodologies.

4.2   Technological Changes Driving the 255/508 Refresh

Introduction
Specific technologies

Introduction

Since the first Section 255 guidelines and Section 508 standard were developed, the pace of technological change has been rapid.  This change, as it affects accessibility, falls into two categories:  changes to products themselves and changes in the accessibility environment.

First, products themselves have undergone radical evolution and convergence in many cases. For example, of the six product categories used in the current Section 508 standard, virtually all have undergone significant changes that have thrown the current descriptions into question.  The rise of web-based applications has blurred the line between "software" and "web" to a great degree, and software development itself is now performed on a cascading hierarchy of interoperating tools and platforms. "Telecommunications," is now used to deliver a much wider array of products and services than before. In addition to voice, text or video communication capabilities can be found in many ICT products or services.  Desktop computers are no longer the only information processing hardware, mobile devices with radically different input and output characteristics now fill this role.  Audible and visual media, synchronized or not, are now provided over many distribution paths, both as a permanent record and as a network service.  Some formerly closed product types are now open, while some formerly open product types are now closed, more or less by policy rather than technology; digital rights management is a new and important consideration for manufacturers and content providers.

Second, accessibility barriers that were severe at the time when these regulations were first drafted, and thus the subject of intense interest, have been either resolved or rendered less relevant in the current technology environment. For example the accessibility of online forms has been improved to the point that, if the designers themselves use the proper approach, the tools themselves no longer prevent the design of accessible forms.  This problem was a serious obstacle to participation in e-government at the time the current version of the Section 508 standard was developed; Provision 1194.22(n) specifically addresses online forms.  The Committee also felt that a more general user interface approach would be better than addressing all interface categories (of which online forms are only one) individually.  In this we have followed the practice of the Web Accessibility Initiative as well as other accessibility efforts.

Specific technologies

Below are some examples of technologies whose introduction is altering the landscape of accessibility.8 Some of these innovations may offer improved accessibility to some users while jeopardizing others. Because of these changes, awareness of capacities of technology to be used by wider audiences has increased, and resources to provide information and data in more accessible ways are more ubiquitous to assistive technology producers.  This also means that assistive technology vendors and information technology vendors need to improve methods of interoperability to allow for each specialty group to do what they do best.

1. Web applications and web-software convergence.  Web content has shifted from the presentation of more or less static information to full-fledged applications with complex user interfaces.  For example, there are now word processors and spreadsheets with virtually all the features of installed software that exist entirely on the web.  In fact, the Committee made use of such tools in managing its work.  This change has reduced the distinction between “software” and “web” provisions.

2. Convergence in hardware, especially mobile devices.  Multipurpose mobile devices have largely replaced voice-only mobile phones, some amount of text, video, navigation, web browsing, and/or media playing capabilities are features on mobile phones.  In some mobile phones, it is necessary to navigate through an IT like layer (usually Section 508 only) to get to the telephony functionality (Sections 255 and 508).  Some of these functions may not be covered by either Section 255 or 508 in all cases.

3. Changes to the concepts of "self-contained," "closed" products.  This category had been established to require accessible functionality where users could not be expected to install AT accommodations.  However, more and more products are software-defined, and have added some openness to modifications of the user interface.  At the same time digital rights management (DRM) has closed some functionality of otherwise open products.  The Committee had difficulty in finding a structure and a terminology to reflect the changes to both personal and public/shared products; we recognize that there are now “closed product functionality” rather than fully-closed products.

4. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).  The growth of internet-based telephony has complicated accessibility regulations.  There are a variety of VoIP applications available. There are different relationships to the existing public switched telephone network, some of which are managed only by the end user.  Text and video have been added to some voice services, and all have been integrated with each other and with messaging and notification services.

5. Multitouch and gesture interfaces.  New touch interfaces on mobile devices contain features far beyond simple keyboard simulation.  These touchscreens, cameras, and other movement detection systems can receive and analyze complex actions:  not only “chorded” input from several fingers at once, but whole gestures like spreading two fingers apart or tilting one’s head to the side.

6. Synchronized media has evolved and is now delivered digitally over multiple pathways (broadcast, Internet, DVD, etc.).  Users can interact with these media, requiring more complex user interfaces.  This evolution means that issues beyond broadcast or transport must be addressed to ensure that full access to such content is available no matter what device or location it is accessed from.

7. Assistive technologies have in some cases moved in to the mainstream. For example speech input and output are becoming more common place on devices such as cell phones and automobiles.  The concepts used for communicating via interactive text are now fully mainstreamed.
Technology and the market move more quickly and unpredictably than the current regulatory framework can easily accommodate. The Committee’s generalized approach to the user interface reduces this incompatibility, and the Access Board may want to consider how it can address the pace of rapid technological updates while maintaining regulatory reliability and consistency.

4.3   Harmonization

The Access Board directed the Committee to consider harmonization issues. Harmonization means the adoption of specific accessibility standards and guidelines across as many jurisdictions and standards bodies as feasible. Harmonization results in a more unified regulatory environment in which all participants benefit from clarity and simplicity. Recognizing the importance of international harmonization, representatives from the European Commission, Japan, Canada, and Australia participated in TEITAC.  Industry supports harmonization in principle because it allows the ICT market to address accessibility through a global process -- one product developed to be sold world-wide -- rather than by trying to meet unique, potentially conflicting standards required by different countries. Harmonization should result in more accessible products, delivered through a more economically efficient market. Consumers thus benefit directly from harmonization; they also benefit indirectly because harmonization allows advocates to focus their efforts on fewer standards development activities.  It is this economy of focused effort that may offer the greatest net benefit to people with disabilities.

In practical terms, harmonization often means the adoption of an international or national standard by a particular jurisdiction, or that the jurisdiction's policies are derived from that international standard.  The Committee uses the term "jurisdictions" instead of "countries" because one of the issues in the United States is how to make sure we do not end up with 50 different state versions of the Section 508 standard. It has been mentioned that states either adopt Section 508 or do not, but some have made an effort to adapt it as they adopt it, i.e., revising some provisions and/or creating additional requirements.  This has also occurred in some instances within the Federal government. Such adaptations may reduce economy of scale if there are conflicts or extension of standard provisions, making ICT more expensive for all.

Accessibility has attracted the attention of standards bodies in diverse fields. There are accessibility standards in buildings, ICT hardware, software, web development, consumer electronics, transportation, education, and other fields. These have arisen independently through different professions and in different countries.

In the course of the last decade these standards and guidelines have proliferated, along with a general awareness that some of the relevant provisions might be in conflict with each other.  These standards and standards-setting committees include, among others:

  • ANSI C63.19:  Wireless Hearing Aid Compatibility
  • IEC TC100 Multimedia Systems and Equipment, Technical Report:  Usability Considerations for Audio, Video and Multimedia Systems and Equipment Standardization, Draft Survey of Opinions and National Body Positions
  • ISO TC 173:  Technical systems and aids for people with disabilities
  • ISO TC 159:  Software Accessibility
  • JIS X8341-5 “Accessibility Guideline for Office Equipment” held jointly by the Japanese Industrial Standards Committee (JISC) and Japanese Standards Association (JSA)
  • SOGITS N 1032 - EN for DG XIII:  (European Standards)
  • Nordic Standards for Accessibility
  • World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative Guidelines (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines; User Agent Accessibility Guidelines; Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines)

In October 2004, the Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC 1) of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IED) established a Special Working Group on Accessibility (SWG-A) to create a comprehensive summary of user needs and inventory of existing accessibility standards.  The goal of the SWG-A is to raise awareness of existing accessibility standards and to identify gaps where standards are not addressing user needs.

The TEITAC was fortunate to have several members who also participate in several of these other standards bodies.

The Committee worked to harmonize its recommendations with the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) Working Group.  The WCAG 2.0 Working Group also accepted changes from the Committee.  This was facilitated by the fact that there were several common members between the two groups including a co-chair of the TEITAC subcommittee on Web and Software guidelines and a co-chair of the WCAG Working Group.

We recommend that the Access Board continue to monitor WCAG 2.0 as it proceeds to become a W3C recommendation by the end of 2008. Where there are provisions in the TEITAC proposal that are harmonized with WCAG 2.0, the Access Board should consider harmonization with the wording of the final WCAG 2.0 provisions.

We also made an effort to harmonize with ISO 9241 part 171 where appropriate. Some of the existing Section 508 software requirements do not have a direct counterpart in WCAG 2.0 but were harmonized with the ISO standard as appropriate.

Planning for Future Updates
Regulatory changes happen at a slow pace because the rulemaking process must take into account the perspectives of many stakeholders. This makes it is difficult for regulatory change to match the pace of technological change.  The Committee’s consultative process alone has taken almost two years, and the subsequent rulemaking may take as long.  By the time the new rules are in effect, some may already be in need of updating. The Committee discussed, but no consensus was reached on a method of minimizing this time lag. The proposal of separating the more permanent elements (such as Subpart A and the Functional Performance Criteria) from the technical requirements, which are more subject to market and technological changes is described below, but there are concerns that shorter periods between provision changes would be hard to implement on products since development cycles can be longer. It was also noted that the change in cycles might be in conflict with Administrative Procedures Act requirements for agency rulemaking.

The two types of provisions might have different review procedures.  The former could continue on the current 5-8 year cycle.  The latter might have “review triggers” such as:

  • Emerging products identified by technology analysts as having accessibility implications that are not addressed adequately by the technical standards.
  • Frequent references and concerns raised in FCC complaints, Section 508 Coordinator dialogues, requests for technical assistance from the Access Board, etc.
  • Changes to standards documents (e.g., WCAG, ISO) cited by these regulations.

It might be possible to review the affected provisions quickly and efficiently, using a narrowly focused mission, a smaller set of stakeholders and open public input processes.  The Access Board might consider establishing such an approach and structure its near-term rulemaking to prepare for it.

4.4   Economic Impact

Changes to these regulations will have both direct and indirect effects on the costs of implementation.  The Access Board is responsible for developing an Economic Impact Statement for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as part of the process for implementing new versions of the Section 255 guidelines and Section 508 standard.  The Access Board requested that the Committee provide qualitative information that the Access Board could use in its Statement.  This information is provided for only a small number of the recommended provisions.
In this section, however, we would like to discuss the issue of economic impact at a more abstract level, as a way of explaining how we came to the conclusions we drew about the economic effect of the refreshed Guidelines and Standard.

1. The Access Board made it clear that our economic impact analysis should refer only to changes from the current Section 508 provisions, not overall impact.  That is, the Access Board’s Economic Impact Statement will only state whether changes in the provisions add to or subtract from the total cost of compliance.

2. As we understand it, the economic effect of a change to an individual provision will not be factored into OMB’s review; only the total aggregated effect is placed under scrutiny.

3. We attempted to craft recommended provisions that are more clear than the current ones based on the belief that clarity reduces costs because it simplifies testing and analysis but may inhibit innovation. In some instance we were able to do so and in others were not.

4. We believe that harmonization generally reduces costs by eliminating conflicts between different government and industry standards.  The Committee placed harmonization high on its list of criteria for drafting provisions, and we believe that we have succeeded in eliminating inconsistencies with any of the other standards of which we are aware.  Although such inconsistencies only affect ICT vendors directly, those costs must be recaptured somehow in the price, and agencies will bear the cost.

5. We are aware that some provisions do in fact expand the scope and level of effort, or will increase ICT costs in some other manner and the overall volume of provisions is significantly expanded which will increase the economic impact. In the case of VoIP, for example, the Committee’s recommendation assumes rough parity between VoIP and non-VoIP forms of voice conversation. In doing so, the provision simply follows the lead of the FCC’s regulatory action.  In other cases, the recommended provision clarifies current Section 508 provisions.  Even when a gap was unintended, agencies may have avoided certain costs through a mistaken interpretation.  The correction of that mistake should not be interpreted as a newly imposed obligation.

6. Some of the provisions also take advantage of new technical developments and have been reformulated to give companies new options for meeting the provisions.